Special correspondent John Zarocostas in Geneva interviewed John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, last week on the sidelines of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) ministerial conference about the challenges of globalization and outsourcing and the prospects for employment. The conference began May 31 and runs through Friday.
Question: Mr. Sweeney, you told the ILO ministerial conference that up to 52 million jobs are at risk in the United States because of outsourcing and globalization of the world economy. Is the jury still out on that?
Answer: Well, I think it’s a very, very serious problem in the United States — the impact it has on workers both in the United States and also in our trading-partner countries, where companies are looking for the cheapest deal, with the lowest wages and benefits. So it really ends up with the exploitation of workers in other countries.
I think globalization has to work for workers both in our country and in our trading-partner countries. …
Since 1998, we’ve lost about 3.5 million good, middle-class manufacturing jobs, and these are jobs that were eliminated with outsourcing, and by policies taking part in different parts of our country in the very basic manufacturing industries: auto, steel, rubber and so on. Most of these jobs include good retirement and health benefits. At the same time that’s happening, we see a substantial increase in the number of people without health insurance in the United States.
Q: Advocates of globalization say, “Yes, there is outsourcing, but at the same time, a lot of jobs are generated in the U.S. or other Western economies to make up for the loss of jobs to lower-cost countries.”
A: Well, it’s true that there has been some job development, but during this period of time, the job-development program has been the weakest that we have seen in our country in the past 50 years. And the numbers of job creations justify us making that statement.
The other part of it is that so many of these jobs are part-time jobs, temporary jobs, and so many of them — as is reflected in people who have access to health care — are not jobs that provide health benefits, do not provide retirement security, and, in many cases, they’re low-wage jobs.
Q: On that issue, you have been very vocal about the trade relationship with China, and strongly advocated a [punitive] import tariff because of unfairness in working conditions in China and support a strong revaluation of the Chinese currency, the yuan.
That debate is still ongoing. Where do you think it’s coming down to?
A: I’m not really sure where it’s coming down to, but we’re going to continue to push on this, and there is significant support in our Congress for opposition.
Q: Do you see some vote … that will trigger punitive import tariffs on Chinese products, or do you see the Treasury secretary leaning on his Chinese counterpart to appreciate the currency?
A: I think the new secretary of Treasury will be focusing on this issue and attempting to convince the Chinese representatives. But it remains to be seen how successful they are … or what actions Congress will be taking.
This issue has to come up in some form with a proposal from the White House to the Congress. At that point, we will be consistent with our position.
Q: The Chinese counter: Many of these exports going to the U.S. and other rich countries — about 60 percent — are from multinational companies owned by rich Western countries.